Prescription Painkillers Are Liars
There is a simple reason why opioid painkillers feel so good. Once they enter into the bloodstream, opioids release dopamine, a feel-good hormone that induces feelings of pleasure and happiness. A neurotransmitter, dopamine signals messages to the brain releasing a sense of euphoria. But the body has its own set of natural opioids that respond to opioid receptors in the brain. When we have pain, they go to work to help minimize our discomfort.
Once the body and the brain are exposed to synthetic opioids, such as prescription pain pills, the addition of these chemical compounds circumvents what the body and brain already do, confusing and overloading the process, though on an intellectual and cognitive level, we don’t realize this is happening. Our body receives these feelings of ease, calm, and serenity while blocking pain. Isn’t that the desired effect from pain medications?
The False Sense of Pain-Free
Through continued use, opioids overstimulate different systems in the brain that are connected to different parts of the body. Ultimately, there is an interruption of the normal functioning of chemicals in the brain. The result is that the body and brain expect to be in a state of painlessness and rely on the prescription painkillers to accomplish this task. As such, it requires an increase in the amount of medication taken, whether in dosage strength, frequency of use, or both.
Unfortunately, after just a short amount of time in using prescription opioids, our bodies don’t know how to respond to pain and work normally anymore. A chemical dependency develops, and explains why people continue to take painkillers long after the pain goes away.
By the time people realize they don’t need these painkillers for pain anymore, it’s too late. And who wants to feel all of those terrible feelings (physical, emotional, behavioral) by coming off of them that can be just as bad, or worse, than the original pain experienced?
We don’t start out by going to the doctor or dentist and consider this risk, “Maybe, I will become addicted…” Most of us believe that we will go in, get that injury fixed, go through a surgery or procedure and accept a few days of pain.
Then, when we find that the pain still remains, we continue our prescriptions. This is how addiction to prescription painkillers happens.
Signs You May Be Addicted to Painkillers
It’s important to remember that addiction does not discriminate. Everyone has the potential to become addicted to painkillers.
There are many signs of painkiller addiction that you can watch for. If you or a loved one is about to have a medical procedure, or have just been released from the hospital, surgicenter, or doctor’s care, with a prescription to a painkiller, keep these signs in mind.
Painkiller Addiction Symptoms
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Feeling sick when you don’t take them
- Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms, including aches, pains, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, flu-like symptoms, etc.
- Finding you need more of the medication to seek the same pain-relief or euphoria
- Obsessing about them, including how you will get them again if you run out
- Stealing them from others
- Taking it for the euphoric feeling or to deliberately get high
- Losing control of how and when you take them
- Seeking more than one doctor to get your prescriptions (doctor shopping)
- Experiencing psychological, mood, and behavioral changes that are out of character for your personality (extreme anger, sadness, agitation, etc.)
- Becoming defensive when someone brings up a concern with your use of painkillers
The above signs sum up the hallmarks of addiction. There are other indicators of addiction, noted below, that reveal the need for seeking help immediately.
- Drug tolerance, needs more of the drug
- Drug dependence; withdrawal symptoms appear
- between use
- when trying to stop use
- Drug addiction; regular, ongoing use, loss of control, even when knowing the risks and experiencing adverse medical, personal, financial, and career-related consequences
Addiction Can Come with Co-Occurring Mental Illness
Certain types and personalities of people can predispose them to developing addiction. People who have previously had a problem with addiction or have a mental illness should be very careful when taking prescription opioids.
If someone has already recovered from a substance abuse disorder, it is important to be informed about the risks in taking prescription medications. Be sure to share past addictions with your health practitioners, especially when pain is involved. Those who have had alcohol or drug addictions in the past may be able to find alternatives to opioid pain relievers.
Since those with mental illness may be prone to painkiller addiction, it’s important to find the proper treatment that can alleviate pain symptoms without increasing the risk for developing a co-occurring disorder.
How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorder with Prescription Pain Addiction
Doctors, social workers, and other mental health professionals who specialize in both mental illness and addiction can assess a patient’s current state of health and address co-occurring disorders, if evident.
Other things to look for in a drug rehabilitation facility include opportunities to take part in diverse, alternative activities and various counseling modalities. This includes group therapy, individual therapy, social groups, art, music, and other holistic therapies. As with all substance addiction, this disease affects the family members of the patient in treatment as well, so ensuring that the family is involved provides the support needed for recovery and to heal the family.
If you or a loved one is addicted to painkillers, help is here.
Acceptance Recovery Center provides individuals with the integrated care needed to recover from prescription painkiller addiction through our progressive, effective, comprehensive treatment program.
Stop Prescription Painkiller Drug Dependency Now
Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County.
Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD